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From: "Eric Chaffee"
To: "[email protected]"
Subject: Coming to the end of self
Here's an item by a good
friend who found his way (via
nonduality.com) to a group I participate with, weekly.
Thanks, Wil, for sharing the thoughts in this message.
The fact is, I know of
nothing good living in me living,
that is, in my unspiritual self for though the will to do
good is in me, the performance is not, with the result that
instead of doing the good things that I want to do, I carry
out the sinful things I do not want.
- The Apostle Paul
To the Romans (7:18, 19) (The Jerusalem Bible, Readers
Most Saturdays, I have
the great privilege of attending a
weekly early morning Bible study at a farm outside Buffalo,
NY. Eric, our moderator, who has been a faithful participant
for many years, originally invited me. This is a small group
of men from a rather wide variety of denominational and
occupational backgrounds with a very real and, sometimes,
radical - commitment to Christ. We gather to read a chapter of
Scripture at a time, reading a verse at a time by turns around
the table, after which we discuss it, pray about it, maybe
sing a chorus or a hymn, and then go on to another one, if we
have time. This has been one of the most intense and most
edifying spiritual exercises in which Ive ever taken part.
A few weeks ago, we spent
time in Romans 7 and 8. After
reading chapter 7, we had taken up the above verses for a few
minutes, when Eric asked, Whos the doer?. Whos the
doer!, I exclaimed. Thats a Buddhist question! Thats an
Eric question, he responded. [see note, below] I wanted to
follow this train of thought for a few minutes, but, as most
of the members are evangelicals, we quickly followed the
well-worn, but still fruitful, train of discussion about the
man of sin versus the man of faith. I couldnt shake the
question, though; If the doing is not what I want, then who is
This was still in the
back of my mind when another regular
attendee, the son of the farmhouse owner, Philip, said, You
know, Ive discovered that when I sin, its because I want to
know something. Is that whatever-it-is as good as they say or
as fun as they say? I just want to know. I commented that he
was underscoring the fact that the forbidden fruit in the
Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-19) was called the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil. The rest of the group was
off and running on this idea, but I was stuck with a new
question: Who wants to know?
These two questions - Who
is the doer? Who wants to know? -
have been chasing each other around the back of my mind off
and on since then. As I already called the first one a
Buddhist question, I cant help connecting these questions to
a simple Buddhist mindfulness exercise. Beginners are taught
to just sit quietly, breath quietly and regularly and watch
their thoughts. Dont do anything with them. Just let them
blow across your mind like clouds in the sky. Then consider:
Who is sitting? Who is breathing? Who is thinking the
thoughts? But if youre thinking the thoughts, how can you be
watching the thoughts? How can you watch yourself think? You
are obviously not your body, you are not your breathing, you
are not your mind, you are not your emotions. You just have
them. Or do you? Or are you?
The purpose is to come to
the end of ourselves, to recognize
the unity of all things. In Romans 7, Paul shows how he came
to the end of himself. He continues (verses 20-24):
When I act against my
will, then, it is not my true self doing
it, but sin which lives in me. In fact, it seems to be the
rule, that every single time I want to do good it is something
evil that comes to hand. In my inmost self I dearly love Gods
Law, but I can see that my body follows a different law that
battles against the law which my reason dictates. This is what
makes me a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my
body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this
body doomed to death?
Echoing the first two of
the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism
(see, for example,
Paul recognizes his suffering and sees his
conflicting desires as the cause of his suffering, but his
solution to the end of self is not Buddhist at all: Thanks be
to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! . . . (T)he law of the
spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law
of sin and death. (7:25; 8:2).
The doer is this false
sense of self we all have, which, if we
succumb to it, will cause us to sleep the sleep of death.
However, there is no necessity for us to obey our unspiritual
selves or to live unspiritual lives. If you live in that way,
you are doomed to die; but if by the Spirit you put an end to
the misdeeds of the body you will live (8:12, 13).
And if we will live, we
will rise in glory (8:17) and all of
creation with us. Nothing in this life can (e)ver be compared
to the glory as yet unrevealed, Paul continues (Romans 8:
The whole creation is
eagerly waiting for God to reveal His
(children) . . . . (C)reation still retains the hope of being
freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the
same freedom and glory as the children of God. (8:18, 20b,
So, theres the
answer: The doer is no one to whom we should
pay attention! The one who wants to know is not the One Who
knows all things! If we will come to the end of ourselves in
Him, in Christ, we will find an end to our suffering, the
suffering of our little s selves. We will truly be children
of God. And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of
God and coheirs with Christ . . . (8:17). Then, not just we,
but all of creation, will come through Christ to that freedom,
glory and unity which was in God before ever the world was
(John 17: 5).
And so it is!
NB: Eric then immediately
amended his comment to remark that
the question was first a 'Paul-question' as Paul asks 'who
shall deliver me from [doing that which I don't want to be
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